So I just went in for the second time — my next — and final, since now I’m fresh out of legs — total knee replacement. It seems I’m hard on knees. Thank god I’m not a horse. Or, worse, a spider, the knee surgeon added helpfully when I tried this joke on him. (I’ll bet even our eight-legged friends have better-designed knees than humans, but that’s another story.) Two knee replacements within a year — possibly the lousiest way to get more writing time ever invented.
So far, surgery-wise, all’s the same. Walking through fuzz — check. Having a gazillion people a day ask you the same question, “What’s your pain level on a scale from one to ten?” (Couldn’t they come up with something more interesting than those boring numbers? “One” could be, say, “Comfy Chair”; and “ten,” “Spanish Inquisition.”) Hours passing slowly — one hospital day, I swear I’m not lying, lasted a week. Finding food so tasteless I could be eating clam jerky instead of my favorite treat and I wouldn’t care. Falling asleep dreaming of things to write about, then waking up only to realize that somewhere in the ether I was robbed — my carefully crafted scene was sucked away in a swirl of opiate fog. (Just how did Coleridge ever manage to write Xanadu, anyway? I would have forgotten the whole thing before I crutched my way across the four feet separating bed and writing desk. Perhaps he engaged a scribe?) A long time ago an English teacher explained the poppy-fueled nature of Xanadu to me and my fellow 10th graders. Boy did that seem exotic. Never did I imagine that when I grew up I might be attempting the same thing, … well, sort of. A swirl of opium smoke in a darkened room is so much more romantic than a pill.
Somewhere in all this fog was the certainty that, on returning home from the hospital I would enter writing paradise. After all, the surgery had netted me a generous stretch of time off work. I nursed the idea, feeling like someone planning their lifetime fantasy vacation … like someone sneaking chocolate. It was my little secret, almost too good to be true. Vast beckoning plains of writing time awaited me.
But on day one after leaving the hospital (or was it day two, or, hmmm … perhaps, day three?) I realized I’d been working on one short dialogue for an hour, and still it stared back at me, lifeless. I had to admit I was pushing peas around on a plate. The characters weren’t talking; I was stuffing them with words. The old magic wouldn’t come; my comfortably familiar people had become animatronic shadows of their former selves. I considered in a panic that maybe this poppy-fueled thingy was actually working in reverse for me. The problem was, to beat off the land shark that was chasing me and sinking its steel teeth into my knee, I still needed the pain pills — and they were stamping out my imagination out like a big, damp boot on a campfire.
And so I yield reluctantly to the reality that I can’t write right now in any major way, just a fragment of a character description here, a splash of landscape there … and I decide that’s o.k. All I can do now is prowl through my research books and wallow in them, and hope. Basking in research becomes mental foreplay, a way to keep myself excited about the book.
It surprises me how the need to write trickles back, timid, hopeful, springing up in unexpected places. No sooner had I admitted the book was too much for me than out popped a review of the book I was reading — well, it is writing, of a sort — and I happily posted it on goodreads, mentally dangling my tiny effort before myself like a trophy, shining evidence my brain hadn’t actually turned to mush. The need to write is bundled energy, tucked away somewhere for now. It’s stronger and more ornery than it looks, full of weed-like persistence — trample it, ignore it, refuse to water it, and it will yield and disappear for a while, only to take a foothold somewhere else.
The need to write. Right now it’s two bright round eyes staring out at me defiantly from the darkness beneath a rock, watching me, saying, I’m here, dammit. Drug me, scare me, beat me off with a stick. I’m not going anywhere.
Gradually things improve. I manage to do my laundry by myself, backing down two flights of stairs while dragging the basket. On another day, I actually get my socks on in under a minute. On yet another day, another thrill — I check my website and discover I just sold an e-book to someone in Singapore. (This is the legacy of last year’s knee replacement — I used that time to get Light Bearer ready for its new life as an e-book.) So that book is alive, even though I am barely, and managing to get itself sold without my help. There’s something exciting about knowing that precise instant a fish nibbles that e-line that’s always out there in the world-ocean, says “yes,” and bites. Magical thinking assures me it’s an omen. It means my writing life is still breathing. It’s just hiding out under the sofa right now.
Next week I’ll be … more alert. I know I will. And I’ll have not one, but two shiny new knees to gallop over the the countryside with as I outrun the land sharks and writers’ block and all the other bad, bad things lurking out there in the world.